China, Serbia elevate ironclad friendship, embark on new era of bilateral cooperation

Eight years after his initial visit to Serbia, during which he left a heartwarming impression at the Smederevo Steelworks, Chinese President Xi Jinping recently returned to the country that the Chinese people affectionately call an "ironclad friend."

Upon his arrival, more than 10,000 Serbians lined the streets, enthusiastically waving the national flags of both China and Serbia to extend the warmest of welcomes to President Xi, vividly demonstrating the "ironclad friendship" between the two countries.

During a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, President Xi pointed out that he had come to Serbia at the invitation of an ironclad friend and felt very much at home and welcomed. President Xi added that good friends should make more visits and exchanges.

"The Serbian people are full of gratitude and respect for China, especially for President Xi, and feel truly proud to be an ironclad friend to such a great nation," President Vucic responded enthusiastically.

The two heads of state jointly announced deepening and elevating the China-Serbia comprehensive strategic partnership and building a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era.

In a signed article published in a Serbian newspaper, President Xi used the word "mutual" multiple times, underscoring the shared commitment to support and learn from one another. Throughout the article, Xi expressed China's willingness to work with Serbia to write a new chapter in developing and rejuvenating the two nations.

New progress has been made in the China-Serbia Free Trade Agreement, which is set to take effect on July 1 this year, thanks to the efforts of both sides.

After the talks, the two presidents witnessed the exchange of multiple cooperation documents, which covered a wide range of areas, including Belt and Road cooperation, green development, digital economy, e-commerce, infrastructure, economic and technical cooperation, information and communication, agri-food, and the media.

In 2015, Serbia and China signed a Belt and Road cooperation document, marking a significant milestone in their bilateral relationship. Their partnership has since flourished, with China emerging as Serbia's largest source of direct investment in 2022.

The total trade volume between China and Serbia reached $4.35 billion in 2023, a seven-fold increase over 2016. In October 2023, China and Serbia signed a free trade agreement, the first between China and a nation from Central and Eastern Europe.

The Hungary-Serbia Railway, a flagship cooperation project between China and Central and Eastern European countries, celebrated a significant accomplishment on April 25, 2024. The tracks on the section connecting the Serbian cities of Novi Sad and Subotica were successfully linked in Backa Topola, Serbia.

Moreover, both sides have implemented practical cooperation projects to improve people's well-being. China is ready to import more high-quality and distinctive agricultural products from Serbia and is confident that the entire Serbian section of the Belgrade-Budapest railway will go into operation as scheduled.

Both countries have witnessed fruitful results of cooperation in infrastructure construction and capacity building, continuously expanding the depth and breadth of practical cooperation while improving quality and efficiency. "Chinese construction and manufacturing have truly contributed to Serbia's development," said Li Ming, China's ambassador to Serbia.

Cultural exchanges have brought the people of China and Serbia, two distant nations boasting long histories, closer together.

President Xi mentioned in his signed article, "Our peoples have warm feelings toward each other, as evidenced by the robust cultural, sports, tourism and people-to-people exchanges."

During his stay in Serbia, President Xi announced the first batch of six practical steps China will take to support the building of a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era. These steps include China's plan to support 50 young Serbian scientists in taking part in scientific research exchanges in China and to invite 300 young Serbians to China on study and exchange programs over the next three years.

When attending a welcome banquet held by President Vucic, President Xi said Serbia, located on "the west of the East, and east of the West," has long been known as "the gateway to the Balkans." The Yugoslav film "The Bridge" and the song "Bella Ciao," which evoke strong patriotic and anti-Fascism sentiments, have been immensely popular in China through the years.

Similarly, there are many Chinese signs on the streets of Serbia today, and the melodious sound of the guzheng, a Chinese traditional instrument, can be enjoyed at the China Cultural Center of Belgrade. The road where the center is located is called "Confucius Boulevard," and the square is called "China-Serbia Friendship Square."

A mutual visa-free agreement between China and Serbia, enacted in 2017, allows holders of ordinary passports from both countries to enjoy visa-free entry to the other.

Further strengthening the cultural ties between China and Serbia, Nikola Jokić, the Serbian basketball superstar, personally cheered on players participating in Chinese rural basketball games.

The first China-Serbia Cultural Exchange Forum was also held in Belgrade last month, attracting some 50 scholars and experts from both countries to discuss growing cultural exchanges and cooperation.